I’ve recently become aware that some people (maybe even most people) don’t walk around feeling guilty all the time. Could this possibly be true? From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep (and often even in my weird little dreams) I feel guilty about something. Or everything.
I feel guilty that I didn’t get up thirty minutes earlier so that I could have uninterrupted quiet time with God. I feel guilty that I never wake up thirty minutes early so that I can have uninterrupted quiet time with God. I feel guilty for the second (or third or fourth) cup of coffee. I feel guilty that my kids are eating cereal or pop tarts instead of a nourishing breakfast with all thing gross and good for you. I feel guilty for every minute of television they watch. I feel doubly guilty for every minute of television that I watch. I feel guilty for not doing laundry, or for doing it wrong or for having so many clothes in the first place. I feel guilty that I hate to cook. I feel guilty for not answering the phone when my mom, or friend, or whoever calls. I feel guilty for never checking my voice mail (well, not really). I feel guilty for my Target obsession, my Starbucks addiction and my affinity for long, dangly earrings. I feel guilty for not baking, but I also feel guilty when I do bake because heaven knows I don’t need anymore sugar in my diet! I feel guilty that I don’t get to spend enough time with my kids, or my husband, or my friends, or myself. I feel guilty about all the things I forgot to do and all the things I didn’t forget about but didn’t do anyway either because I ran out of time or energy or both.
I feel guilty all the time and that guilt is such an enormous burden. I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. For about two weeks I actually went around asking everyone I know how often each day they feel guilty about something. The answers I got were what made me think that 1) it’s not ok or normal to feel guilty all the time and 2) I’m not the only one who feels this way. My husband, for example, feels guilty maybe once a month. I have a friend who said that she has only really felt guilty over a few things in her entire lifetime. Can you imagine?! Then there was another friend who teared up when I confessed how heavy the weight of guilt is in my life because she feels exactly the same way. So for her and me, I think it’s worth talking about.
I don’t believe we were meant to carry this guilt, but like many things we’re not meant to carry we really don’t know how to put it down. We’ve been carrying this guilt around so long that we don’t know what we would look like without it. We live in a world that is driven by ambition, comparison and excess. We have been told our entire lives that we can have anything we want and we should definitely want it all.
Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus came to free us from the heavy bondage of guilt. He never intended for us to walk around with such a burden.
As soon as I realized that my level of daily guilt was way above the norm, I started a guilt journal. Whenever I recognized a feeling of guilt, or whenever I had the time and inclination I wrote down all of the things I felt guilty about. The first few times I did this I was able to fill an entire page (sometimes two) with all of the things I felt guilty about. Just writing them down gave me a new perspective. Some of the things I was feeling guilty about were completely out of my control, some were long in the past and some were just plain stupid. There were only a few things on my long lists that really mattered to me. I’ve discovered something: Seeing the guilt you are carrying in the right perspective is the first step in freeing yourself from it’s power over you. When we see the guilt we feel in light of what is truly important, we begin to be able to let it go. Over time my lists became smaller and less frequent as I began to be able to make determinations in my head about what things I should just dismiss immediately and what things I really needed to address.
As I began to retrain my brain to dismiss the dumb stuff and stop feeling guilty all the time I also started to realize that one of the reasons I felt guilty all the time was because my standards were simply too high. My expectations for myself and others veer way too close to perfectionism. I had this list in my head of everything I needed to get done in a day and if I didn’t accomplish every single thing on that list I began to feel like a failure. I did a sort of inventory of all of the things I was responsible for in a given day, week, month and year and immediately realized that I must be a complete nut job to think that anyone, including Jesus himself (who IS perfect), could accomplish every one of those things. Looking at my life from the outside, I looked like a crazy person. Of course I felt guilty every day! I could never have lived up to my own expectations and I was setting myself up for failure. I created my own guilt by setting the goal so high that failure was my only option.
I began, and am still in, a season of saying no. A season of giving myself grace. In The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst says, “The decisions we make dictate the schedule we keep. The schedules we keep determine the lives we live. The lives we live determine how we spend our souls. So, this isn’t just about finding time. This is about honoring God with the time we have.” (p23) She also says, “When I’ve let my schedule get out of control, it’s my soul that suffers the most. Other things suffer for sure. My family time. My attitude. My stress level. But the deep sadness in my soul is the hardest of all to shake.” (p25)
For me, that deep sadness in my soul often comes from a feeling of failure or of not being good enough. I have this insane idea that I should be able to do it all. Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram contribute greatly to this idea that we should be the masters of everything and it’s a terribly unhealthy thought. We need to learn to give ourselves grace. Brene Brown says that we should talk to ourselves the way that we would talk to someone that we love. Instead of filling ourselves with guilt we should be giving ourselves grace.
I’ve decided that I’m done with it. I don’t want to live a life that’s filled with guilt and shame and the constant feelings of not being enough. I don’t want to go to bed every night feeling like a complete failure. I’m just done. So, I channeled my inner Brene Brown and wrote out some steps for myself as I move towards better self grace. I thought they might help someone else too, so here they are.
- Acknowledge the Issue. Write it down. Say it out loud. Look at it with fresh eyes. Decide whether or not it’s worth your time, energy and emotion. Dismiss the things that are out of your control, way in the past or just plain stupid. At the beginning of my journey I was doing this almost daily with a “guilt journal”. Now I do it probably once a week or so.
- Take Inventory & Set New Standards. Take a look at your expectations. Are they too high? Inventory your responsibilities and schedule. Is it even possible? Start to determine what needs to stay and what needs to go. Give up perfectionism and take up in yourself a spirit of grace. You will never achieve perfection. No one else will either. If this is your goal, it is simply way too high and you are dooming yourself to a life filled with guilt and disappointment.
- Shift Your Focus. Instead of thinking of what wasn’t, think of what was. Instead of feeling guilty over the things you screwed up, begin to celebrate the things you did right. Start to be grateful for what you have, for who you are, for the opportunities you’ve been given. Make a list of things you’re grateful for – everything God has blessed you and your family with. Shift your focus from the things that make you feel bad about who you are to the things that make you feel good about yourself and your situation.
- Be Careful the Company You Keep. There are people in your life who consistently make you feel bad about who you are. These types of relationships are toxic. You need to intentionally limit your interaction with these people. There are also people in your life who love you just exactly as you are. Surround yourself with those people. They will be there to support you, encourage you and help you as you move from guilt-filled to grace-filled living. I have been very intentional over the last several months about who I am spending my time with and this has made more of a difference in my soul than any other thing I’ve done. Relationships that make me feel rotten are simply not something I can handle right now.
- Give Yourself Grace. When you do fail, and you will, give yourself grace. As Brene Brown says: “Talk to yourself the same way that you would talk to someone that you love.” You are not meant to be perfect. You are not meant to do it all. You are enough just exactly as you already are. God says so and so do I.
Guys, we can do this. We don’t have to live this way anymore. I want something different for myself and for my kids. I don’t want a life of guilt. I want a life of grace. Let’s make a better way.
I will if you will.
Love you guys!